The film opens with a through the windshield shot of a winding two lane highway lit by headlights, we next see a street flooded by an off screen streetlight that provides an eerie pool of light. We are immediately transported into Noirsville. Two dark figures approach a closed filling station, they turn and head to a diner/lunch counter each going in opposite entrances. So begins Earnest Hemingway's The Killers directed by Robert Siodmak.
The story line is told mostly in flashback. Two hit men (McGraw & Conrad) gun down the Swede (Lancaster) in Brentwood NJ, the Swede, who even though warned of his impending peril makes no effort to flee, he is resigned to his fate. The Swede leaves a $2500 life insurance policy with the name of a Atlantic City hotel cleaning lady as the beneficiary. Insurance investigator Riordan (O'Brien) curious to the facts of the Swede's death, tracks her down and through questioning eventually arrives in Philadelphia with the Swede's real name meets his boyhood buddy police LT Lubinsky (Levene) and discovers that the Swede was an ex-prize fighter turned small time numbers racketeer.
McGraw and Conrad terrorizing the counterman at the diner
Lubinsky and his wife (Christine) who was an old flame of the Swede's fill in the details of his pre Brentwood NJ life. The Swede went seriously off the tracks when he ran into a devious femme fatale, Kitty (Gardner) who he fell head over heals over at a party thrown by gangster Big Jim Colfax, (Decker). Colfax plans a payroll robbery and a double cross and the Swede is the fall guy.
The Swede, "dumbstruck" by vivacious Kitty (Gardner) she's got him hooked and is playing him.
Big Jim Colfax (Decker)
Riordan and Kitty
The opening sequence is a classic, not to be missed and a must see for any noir enthusiast (even if they don't like Lancaster, lol)
noir's central masterpieces, 4 January 2002
Author: bmacv from Western New York
The Killers marked Burt Lancaster's screen debut, establishing the stoic persona that would sustain his long and luminous career. Along with Criss Cross (also starring Lancaster), The Killers also records the high-water mark of Robert Siodmak's work in film noir.
Starting with a Hemingway short story (the retelling of which constitutes only the prologue to the film), The Killers endeavors to fill in the "back story" which Hemingway left to his readers' imaginations. That back story explains why the "Swede" (Lancaster) passively, almost eagerly, awaits the nasty pair of torpedoes (William Conrad, Charles McGraw) who have come to hunt him down. The germ of this recreation is Lancaster's small, solitary bequest -- to a chambermaid in an Atlantic City hotel where he had once stayed. Insurance investigator Edmond O'Brien catches the scent of something unusual and can't let it go. His investigations, helped by an old buddy of Lancaster's who is now a police lieutenant (Sam Levene), uncover a botched stint as a prizefighter; a smouldering yet duplicitous temptress (Ava Gardner), and a payroll heist that ended in an elaborate double cross.
Siodmak, having disposed of the end right at the outset, takes a circuitous route through his telling by using a fragmented series of flashbacks. Paradoxically -- much as the false starts and averted climaxes in a Bruckner symphony pay off handsomely in the end -- the story thus gains depth and momentum. Woody Bredell's dark and meticulous cinematography fulfills Siodmak's vision, resulting in one of the central masterpieces of the noir cycle.
The Criterion DVD box includes the bonus DVD 1964 remake by Don Don Siegel, and so far I've watched a commentary extras by Stuart Kaminsky who provided dialog for OUTIA, and a reading of Hemingway's short strory The Killers.